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Longtime reporter Hardin dies

Dec. 20, 2011 @ 09:19 PM

HUNTINGTON — Award-winning reporter and long-time columnist Jack Hardin died Tuesday at the age of 84.

He is remembered for covering some of the biggest news stories in the Tri-State during his tenure at The Advertiser and The Herald-Dispatch, including the Marshall plane crash, President Lyndon Johnson’s visit and talking an escaped killer into surrendering to police.

Hardin was also the one tapped to mentor new reporters hired at the newspaper, said Don Hatfield, former editor and publisher of The Herald-Dispatch.

When Hatfield joined The Advertiser staff at age 18, he split time between sports and the city beat. His desk cityside was next to Hardin’s.
“I was in awe of this famous reporter,” Hatfield said.

In 1955, only five years after being hired at the newspaper, Jack Hardin won the Pall Mall Big Story  award for talking an escaped murderer into surrendering. It was reenacted on the cigarette manufacturer’s television program.

“Pretty gutsy,” is how Hatfield depicts the event. After getting a call, Hardin needed a ride but couldn’t disclose what it was all about. Unarmed, Hardin met up with the criminal in the woods and convinced him to give up.

“He was a good reporter that a lot of journalists learned from, including me,” Hatfield said.

So seasoned, so smart, so sharp was Hardin that when Hatfield became managing editor, he paired up new reporters with him.

“As soon as they got there, we put them with Jack,” Hatfield said. “He gave them tips they never got in the classroom. He knew how to ask questions and how to get answers.”

The things best loved by Jack Hardin were his family and especially his grandchildren, Marshall sports, his church and his work.

“He loved his job, he loved getting up every day and going to work,” son Klu Hardin said. And he loved to be first to get a story.

His son did confess Jack Hardin was fired from the newspaper two weeks into the job, because he couldn’t really type. “He learned to hunt and peck and typed 60 words per minute,” and back to the job he went.

Not known for flowery stories like some reporters, “he was a hard-nosed news reporter,” Hatfield said. “He wrote straight, simple, hard news.”

Jack Hardin was witness to the horrific 1970 plane crash not far from his Ceredo home.

Hardin was the first reporter to the scene of the deaths of the Marshall University football team, staff and boosters.

“He called from a police radio (at the scene) and said, ‘Don, they’re all gone,’” Hatfield recalled. He confirmed the identity of the plane’s passengers by a wallet found at the scene.

A consultant on the movie, “We Are Marshall,” Jack Hardin surprised his son.

“I called dad and told him there was going to be a movie about the plane crash, and he said, ‘Son, I’ve known for about a year now. I’ve been meeting with them, but was sworn to secrecy.’”

He had tremendous connections. Knowing all the police officers and officials helped provide him access to events and news stories. In 1964, when President Johnson visited the region and his plane landed at Tri-State Airport, Jack Hardin was taken by police past the rope line to the plane. Johnson, apparently thinking this was some local dignitary, took him by the arm and walked along, talking about the crowd that turned out that day. He was the only reporter allowed beyond the line.

Jack Hardin retired from The Herald-Dispatch in 1989, but continued to write his column, About Town, until 2006.

He understood people like to see their names in the newspaper for birthdays and anniversaries. He got birthday calendars from community groups and used them to get all those names, plus his sharp recall when folks stopped him on the street and told them about a life’s milestone.  

Considered to be a great jokester, Jack Hardin put a “chuckle” at the end of each column.

“It’s hard to come up with a chuckle every day,” said Brenda Lucas, who had the daunting task of taking over “Jack’s column” in March 2006.

“One time, Jack was going to get a haircut and someone asked if he was going on company time,” Lucas recalled. “Jack said, ‘Well, it grew on company time.’ ”

That sense of humor is what son Klu Hardin said he’ll take with him forever.

“He was quick-witted and always quick with a joke,” Klu Hardin said of his dad.

Klu Hardin said that humor was evident even on Tuesday, his father quipping to the doctors, “Hospital food is fit for a king - Here King, here King...”

Funeral arrangements for Jack Hardin are tentatively set for Thursday and Friday at his church, Ceredo First Congregational Church.


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